Project 365: One Comic Every Day, Week 42

The premise is simple: read one comic every day for the entire year. It seems like a simple task but there is no way that I read 365 comics last year, even if you count the individual issues in collections. So, this year, I am committing myself to this reading challenge, in the hope that I can broaden my reading habits and fully engage with my favorite hobby again.

This is going to be easy and straightforward this week as all I have read is Fear Itself (and various tie-ins). Honestly, I thought by now I’d have finished it, having zipped through it at a rate of knots, a handful of comics every night, but thanks to the majestic quality of one title and the frustrating tediousness of another, It has been a slow process.

But, I have some exciting comics lined up for next week and a collection of some fang-tastic horror comics for the week after. So stick around.

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Journey Into Mystery #624-625
Credit: Marvel Comics

Comic Number 286: Journey Into Mystery #624-625

Kieron Gillen uses the backdrop of the Cross-over story to tell magnificent character driven tales. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, this run of Journey Into Mystery is as close as Marvel gets to telling a Sandman story.

In issue #624, the new child Loki does what Loki is known for doing but with a guile that only a child could get away with. Volstagg would not be so quick to leap to Loki’s defense if the god of mischief was an adult, and Leah would not be as trusting of someone who is physically older than her. All of the tiny puzzle pieces that Loki sets up begin to form a single shape but there are still gaps, still mysteries to be revealed and Loki’s real intentions are still hidden from everyone.

This title takes me so long to read because I know that every part of the narrative is important in some way, nothing can be taken for granted and, as a reader, you are encouraged to savor every caption box, every speech balloon, and contemplate possible meanings.

Plus, the artwork by Doug Braithwaite, with colors by Ulises Arreola, and letters by Clayton Cowles, are phenomenal. The style gives it that magical feel. It has a visual aesthetic you can easily associate with mythology and Dungeons and Dragons. There is a sense of wonder on every page with beautifully painted images seeping from one panel in to the next, creating an ease of storytelling that is often lacking in superhero comics. The panel borders are there but they don’t act as barriers between the images but rather grammatical pauses, allowing the reader a very small breath before the next sentence.

Fear Itself Book 4
Credit: Marvel Comics

Comic Number 287: Fear Itself book 4

Thor has returned to Earth and the Serpent’s avatars are spreading mass destruction across the globe. Matt Fraction manages to make you care about some of the characters but, unfortunately, each element of the narrative is merely a set up for the spin off comics. So, you get a few interesting pages of Tony Stark sinking into a drunken stupor but for the reasons and consequences you’ll have to go elsewhere.

Unlike Civil War, that had a strong central story — albeit lacking in depth of character — Fear Itself reads more like a highlight reel. It shows you the various stories happening elsewhere in the Marvel universe and gives you the choice picks. But there is a lack of coherency between these story threads. I know the meaning of Stark’s outburst because I have read Invincible Iron Man, but I have no idea what is going on with the fish people in British Columbia or what the rioting in Illinois signifies. I don’t even know if these stories are picked up in other comics because nowhere in this sprawling Crossover comic does it give you a list of tie-ins. Again, with Civil War there was a handy month by month guide to the other comics you needed to pick up. In this, there is a page recommending three of the other comics but that is all.

Having said all that, Fear Itself is enjoyable, with good superhero artwork. You just need to switch off your brain and not think about it: the complete opposite from Journey into Mystery.

Uncanny X-Men #540-543
Credit: Marvel Comics

Comic Number 288: Uncanny X-Men #540-543

I’ve lumped these together although they are spread throughout the Fear Itself reading order.

This is a nice little X-Men story written well by Kieron Gillen with some clear links and set ups for his greater X-Men story. The artist is Greg Land which instantly turns me off. The reasons for that are a much larger conversation which I may return to in the future but for now, lets just accept that he drew this comic and it’s okay. The story is better than the art.

Journey Into Mystery #626
Credit: Marvel Comics

Comic Number 289: Journey Into Mystery #626

I’m not going to dwell on this issue because it’s much the same as I have written above. Loki being Loki, almost coming unstuck… or does he?

The characters that Gillen brings into the story are amazing, becoming bigger and more outrageous as the series moves forward. J. Michael Straczynski successfully reintroduced Thor and the Asgardians into the Marvel universe a few years before this, but Journey Into Mystery makes the greater Asgardian world interesting for the first time in decades.

Journey Into Mystery #627
Credit: Marvel Comics

Comic Number 290: Journey Into Mystery #627

The devil walks into a bar…

This issue of Journey Into Mystery is a stunning comic book that at first seems so out of place with the comics around it. But it’s also the perfect companion to the entire Fear Itself series.

Kieron Gillen tells the story of Mephisto visiting a bar after a hard day’s work. The Marvel demon in turn tells the barman of his devious cunning in stirring up trouble in other worlds. Mephisto is Loki elevated, setting schemes in motion and using a few choice words to make people do exactly what he wants while they believe their decisions are their own. This issue is 100% devilishly cunning: from the narrative, to the writing, to the artwork. I think if it wasn’t for this comic I would have given up on Fear Itself back in the day.

Fear Itself book 5
Credit: Marvel Comics

Comic Number 291: Fear Itself  Book 5

This chapter is entitled Brawl.

Pretty much ‘Nuff Said. The heroes fight the enhanced avatars of the Serpent and cause utter destruction. And because there are still two issues left, it looks like the heroes are going to lose. Cliché driven superheroes at its finest.

Invincible Iron Man #506-508
Credit: Marvel Comics

Comic Number 292: Invincible Iron Man #506 – 508

Tony Stark gets drunk, goes to an Asgardian weapon forge, and faces his demons. I enjoy Matt Fraction’s work on Iron Man more than the Fear Itself comic. There is a sense of character development for Tony Stark and his journey into the world of ‘magic’ is fascinating. Molding the two aspects, magic and science, of the Marvel universe is a difficult task and has failed on numerous occasions but Fraction succeeds by focusing on Stark. Although all of the rune swearing gets a little annoying and the joke quickly wears thin.

Elsewhere Pepper Potts is embroiled in fisticuffs with overpowered super villains and henchmen in mech suits. Basically, she’s filling the Iron Man role while Iron Man is busy. Pepper hasn’t got the same resonance on the page as Stark, not yet, but I know that Fraction improves her character over time.

Personally, I am not a big fan of Salvador Larroca’s artwork. I find it can often be quite static. Although, when he focuses on a character he can create some very emotional moments. His work on Invincible Iron Man at this point is a lot more compelling than some of his later work, so it won’t stop me reading.

I can’t believe that I still have some Fear Itself comics to read. As an event, it is such a mixed bag of comics. Part of me wants to read all of the other tie-ins to see if the whole can outweigh the sum of its parts but there is nothing in this event that is compelling enough to make me spend money on it. Except Journey Into Mystery. This was one of my favorite comics at the time and I would highly recommend this run to anyone. Kieron Gillen knocks it out of the park, scores a hat trick, breaks the world record, and various other sporting metaphors that mean it’s good.

Darryll Robson
Darryll Robson
Comic book reader, reviewer and critic. A student of Comics Studies and still patiently waiting for the day they announce 'Doctor Who on The Planet of the Apes'.